Montana Marshall: founder of SwapNation
Fashion

Peer-to-peer outfit swapping is a more sustainable way to shop – founder of SwapNation is here to explain why

Each week on the Sustainable Shopper, Stylist talks to the people focused on creating a more conscious shopping space for all. This time, Montana Marshall – founder of SwapNation – talks to fashion editor Harriet Davey about peer-to-peer swapping instead of shopping. 

How many times have you borrowed a nice top from your friend to wear with your favourite jeans? Or been caught out wearing something from a family member’s wardrobe? Most of us have borrowed an outfit at some point, and the joy of wearing something that may be old to someone else, but new to you, delivers the same feeling as when you buy a new outfit – just without the spend. 

There are so many wardrobes we would love to raid, and thanks to sites such as SwapNation, it’s easier than ever. The peer-to-peer platform founded by Montana Marshall is built on a community of people who love clothes and want to create a more circular industry by rotating outfits. Swapping items they no longer have a place in their wardrobe for, with pieces they can give a new home to. SwapNation stands by the mantra of ‘why shop when you can swap?’, and it makes sense to be able to trade in what you already own instead of letting it make its way into landfill. 

Like-for-like second-hand and vintage clothing can be swapped on the site and now, thanks to the newly opened store in the heart of London’s Shoreditch, you can go and swap your clothes IRL, too. Swapping is a more sustainable, affordable and fun way to shop, and founder Montana is here to tell the Sustainable Shopper all about it. 

Montana Marshall
Montana Marshall

What is your earliest memory of sustainability?

Montana: As a teenager, I loved fashion and would eagerly flick through the latest fashion magazines and try to recreate the outfits from my (and my mum’s) wardrobe. I would even borrow items from my grandmother, like her chunky knit cardigan that she would wear on chilly days, which I would style off-the-shoulder in spring. Or her red scarf that she would wear when cooking, that I would fashion into a belt for my jeans. 

Back then, I wasn’t conscious of being actively sustainable in my habits but in my late 20s I came up with the idea of SwapNation, it really became a deliberate part of everyday life.

The SwapNation shop is now open in Shoreditch, London
The SwapNation shop is now open in Shoreditch, London

Is there such a thing as truly sustainable fashion?   

I prefer to use the term ‘more sustainable’ because I think few things can be 100% sustainable. There are some truly great brands doing some amazing work to move things forward with regards to ethics, supply chains and regeneration of materials. However, until overconsumption is under control, fashion will not be truly sustainable. 

In the meantime, I think everyone can do their part and make a difference by choosing to re-wear, mend, buy secondhand instead of shopping brand new and swap their unwanted items for pieces they will actually wear or rent instead of buying for every new occasion. 

Who is your favourite sustainable influencer? And why?

There’s so many to choose from but I would have to say @beckymaryhughes, who captures the beauty of the thrifting community. She goes against the tide of influencer marketing by saying no to hauls, proudly re-wearing her outfits and styling secondhand outfits. She’s also not afraid to call out the fashion industry and inspire her audience to take action. You feel like you’re following your friend. There’s something to be said about those influencers who feel really authentic and genuine. You’re always going to influence more people to embrace sustainability that way.

Take in your unwanted clothes and get swapping at SwapNation
Take in your unwanted clothes and get swapping at SwapNation

Investment vs throw away fashion: how do you get customers to care?   

My wardrobe is full of items that I love and I am a proud outfit repeater. We need to remember to love and wear what we already have and really take the time to be picky about what we bring into our wardrobes. Consider where it’s from, how it was made and how long it will last. 

I think for some people the issue is that they think sustainable fashion comes with an enormous price tag and so fast fashion is their only affordable option. The reality is, if you buy a £40 summer dress from a fast fashion brand and wear it once, that cost per wear is £40. If you invest in a dress for £150 and wear it 15 times over the next two summers your cost per wear will be £10. It’s clear to see which one gives you more value for your money, but this way of thinking about fashion is not talked about widely enough and that is the problem.

Being more sustainable can actually save you money, especially because the essence of sustainability is just buying well and buying less. That’s not including shopping in charity shops, using reseller platforms, renting outfits or swapping clothes, all of which tends to be a lot cheaper than retail price. In the long run, breaking down these misconceptions around cost and value will help more people make the switch.

What changes would you like to see happen in the fashion industry?

When brands and retailers are reluctant to act or hold themselves accountable, we desperately need government regulation that enforces fair labour practices and protectionist environmental policies and encourages responsible disposable and consumption. These measures need to happen on the global stage to ensure everybody and every process in the fashion supply chain is accounted for. 

On a smaller scale, I would love to see swapping become the new way to shop. We’re revolutionising the high street and would love to see more shops adopt circular policies to help their customers refresh their wardrobes the more sustainable way.

Give us three sustainable shopping tips:

1. Set up a separate monthly budget within your finances for building a wardrobe you love. This money can be used to swap, rent or buy quality pieces that will last. Keeping track of how much you’re spending will help you cherish each investment.

2. Every time you find yourself eyeing up your next purchase, wait one week before committing to buying it. If you’re still thinking about that dress seven days later and see it fitting within your current wardrobe, buy it. Otherwise, you just won’t wear it enough to get your money’s worth

3. It’s always fun to shop your own wardrobe and rotate what you own. I like to start by dividing my winter and summer wardrobe. Storing away non-seasonal clothes focuses your attention on your weather-appropriate attire. Plus, that trench coat will almost feel brand new when you’re reunited with it in the colder months. I also try to store clothes away once they have been worn. If you don’t have a secondary space, introduce a divider into your wardrobe which separates what has and hasn’t been worn.

      Sustainable Shopper edit by Montana:

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      Images: courtesy of Montana Marshall/SwapNation and brands featured

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